A reader writes,
An issue that I believe has not received enough attention is the, it seems sometimes daily, bombardment of news concerning people in positions of rabbinical and halachic authority being shown to be frauds or worse. These types of behavior by the people we are taught in the frum world to emulate causes me and I'm sure many others to be turned off from Judaism. Even if such incidents do not cause us to stop practicing, they leave us all with a bad taste in our mouths. What I find most disturbing is the comparative silence of the powers that be including the Agudah, and the rabbis that are considered to be leaders in our community.
When a politician is exposed as a charlatan or a pervert, his associates will do their utmost to disassociate themselves from the scandal for they do not want to be thought of as condoning illicit behavior. They do not want their names and the values they supposedly represent and fight for tarnished by the inappropriate actions of a fellow politician, especially when it concerns abuse of a position of power, using it to take advantage of others who may be defenseless or in need of legitimate services provided by the dirty politician.
How much more so should the very people who are supposed to be examples for the rest of klal yisroel decry pervasive behavior when it is found among their own. Our religion is one that has been passed down from father to son and from rabbi to student, a mesorah. However, if some of the very people handing over the mesorah, or charged with ensuring the strict compliance of halachic standards (i.e. geirus) are found to be frauds or perverts, abusing their positions of authority for personal pleasure, they should be denounced in public. The message should be clear: that these people are not representative or representatives of our religion.
Furthermore, silence and outright cover-ups, only emboldens the perpetrators, the ones who haven't been caught, to continue with their disgusting, hurtful behavior. When a victim of sexual abuse does not hear the supposed champions of Torah condemning the actions of an abuser, they are left with a feeling of abandonment, desolation. The community they grew up in does not care about the suffering they endured. And what does it say about us as a community when one of the supposed strictest authorities on orthodox conversion is found to have been soliciting potential converts for sexual favors and there is not even a word of protest to be heard, not a peep. If a rabbi is approving converts based on the extent of sexual favors proffered, shouldn’t all conversions overseen by this individual come into question?
Are we prudes? Is it inappropriate for us to discuss these matters in public? Where is the shame? Why are these people not being denounced? Why the silence? I feel let down? It makes me resentful of the people who are supposed to be the shining examples for the rest of us. I'm sure that I'm not alone.
A father's advice to the Holy FatherQ:A senior Vatican priest last week compared outrage at Pope Benedict's handling of sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church to the persecution of the Jews. Church leaders disavowed the comments, but went on to complain about a "vile," anti-Vatican media campaign aimed at weakening the papacy and its authority. Is the news media being fair to the pope? Is the media biased against the Catholic Church or its hierarchy? How would you advise the pope?
I am a father. I have been a new father six times. I have said often --and I am not the least bit proud of my capacity to house this feeling-- that if anyone were to seriously harm one of my children, I could drive hundreds of miles days later, with all the time in the world to have cooled down, and kill the bastard with my own hands. Were this situation to occur, heaven forfend, would I actually behave as I have described? I pray I will never know, but if you value your life you don't want to test me.
I am the same man, the same father, you ask now if the news media is being fair to the pope in the sexual abuse scandal that currently rocks his church. No need to repeat the offenses, we all know them well and they are horrific. I do think the press is bending over backwards to be fair, and in return I ask this question:
Must I be a part of a "vile anti-Vatican campaign aimed at weakening the papacy..." when I answer that way? Until the pope opens up to us --what did the church know, when did the church first learn of it , and how was that information processed?-- I think the world press, on behalf of the world's families, owes it to us to stay circumspectly but diligently on the case. How would I advise the pope? Open up to us, Father.
The crisis in the Roman Catholic Church is a stark reminder that people we love and admire may turn out to be sex offenders, capable of causing irreparable damage to young lives. Various studies indicate that a not-insignificant minority of adults (perhaps 3 to 20%) may experience some sexual arousal toward children or teenagers. Most do not act on their attractions, but some do -- and they could well be some of the "nicest" people you know.
Despite the media myth that children are abused by strangers, in 90% of child sexual abuse cases, children know their abusers well. They are family members, teachers, scout leaders, athletic coaches, neighbors, babysitters and, as the world now knows, clergy.
Places of worship should be, and usually are, safe havens from the dangers of the world. Still, every congregation must implement policies and practices to reduce the possibility of sexual abuse. These policies can help to protect not just children, but also the adolescents and vulnerable adults in your community.
The following is a checklist of 10 critical steps that can help reduce the potential for abuse in your congregation:
- Develop and implement a "Safe Congregation" policy that prescribes a code of ethical behavior and enunciates the congregation's safety procedures. Make sure congregants know about the policy. Provide copies to all employees, volunteers and job applicants. Let it be known that your faith community does everything possible to protect its members from abuse and harassment.
- Create a Safe Congregations Committee or a Sexual Misconduct and Abuse Response Team, and provide them with the skills training they need to be effective guardians of the congregation. This committee will be responsible for adopting and enforcing safety policies, communicating with the congregation, and reporting regularly to the congregation's leadership.
- Implement annual training for all volunteers in the religious education program so that they can recognize signs of possible sexual abuse and know what actions to take.
- Know your state's laws about reporting concerns about child abuse. Make sure the pastor or rabbi, religious education director and board chair understand the procedures to follow. Unless they are mandated reporters (required by state law to report suspected child abuse directly to the authorities), religious educators and volunteers should have a clear policy about how and when to alert the professional ministerial staff about potential abuse.
- Adopt a screening form for all employees and volunteers (adults and teenagers) who work with children and youth. The form should ask directly about histories of sexual offenses. The use of a screening form in and of itself may deter someone looking for easy access to children. Rigorous screening procedures demonstrate that your congregation is committed to being a safe place for children.
- Implement a policy requiring that two adults be present in every class or program for children and youth, as well as in vehicles transporting young people to activities.
- Offer annual adult education programs on sexual abuse prevention for parents and families, as well as for religious education teachers.
- Offer regular sexuality education programs for children and adolescents as well, including sex abuse prevention, so they know how to recognize when an adult is acting inappropriately toward them. Every child, from the age of three onward, can learn "No, Go, Tell" - say no to the abuse, leave the situation as soon as possible, and tell a parent or trusted adult if someone tries to touch them or asks them to keep a secret about touching. Tell children that their religious educator, minister or rabbi, or youth leader can help them.
- Be sure adults in your congregation (including youth ministers) understand the difference between working with youth and becoming their friends. Healthy adults do not seek friendships with children and teens. An unhealthy relationship initiated by a sex offender may begin as a mentor or friend relationship as the offender "grooms" the child for intimate behaviors.
- Create and distribute a referral list of local organizations and therapists who specialize in sexual abuse prevention and treatment. Ask for help when you need it.
Churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship can play an important role in helping prevent child abuse and equipping parents and children to be safe. Developing and implementing policies can assure that no child or teenager is abused in our sacred spaces.
Follow Rev. Debra Haffner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/revdebra